Six Common Signs of Foundation Issues in Homes

Whether you’re purchasing a new house, making sure your current house is up to code, or are noticing problems in your home, checking the foundation of your home is always a good idea. There are six common signs of foundation issues in homes that are critical to keep an eye on.

Foundation Cracks

Foundation cracks can either be vertical, horizontal or in a stair-step pattern. Vertical cracks are typically due to soil settlement where the soil creates additional pressure on the foundation wall, causing the wall the crack. These cracks can discharge significant amounts of water, causing problems within the home structure. Horizontal cracks are more of a serious issue due to the water-saturated soil exerting pressure on the wall from the outside. Horizontal cracks require immediate repair as the pressure will cause the wall to bow, crack, or settle. Stair-step cracks are a response to soil pressure that cracks the wall along mortar joints between individual blocks. These cracks indicate a foundation problem that will eventually need repairing.

Foundation Sinking

If you notice one side of your home looks lower than the other or that the center of the building looks lower than normal, this may be an indication that your foundation needs lifting. This lifting typically requires work on the exterior with piers, which is the best option to restore the settling foundation. Signs that your foundation may be sinking include foundation cracks, sticking doors or windows and uneven floors. If you notice any of these signs, it is best to get a professional inspection.

Foundation Upheaval

Snow melting, soil thawing/freezing, and rain are the three major causes of foundation problems. When the weight of the soil becomes too high from moisture, the foundation boosts upward, causing an upheaval. Cracks in the floor or walls caused by excess soil moisture creates the upward movement of the foundation. The solution for upheaval will largely depend on your specific problem. Identifying how excess water has been added to the soil is critical. This may be caused by hydrostatic pressure, removed trees that would have absorbed the water, a plumbing leak, or high levels of precipitation. Once the cause of the excess water has been indicated, then the situation may be solved by a professional.

Sticking Doors and Windows

A common reason for sticking doors and windows is due to moisture issues from high humidity or internal parts of a door/window system being worn down. However, sticking doors and windows could also be caused by sinking or settling of the foundation. This sinking causes the door or window to fall out of the frame. To help determine if this issue was caused by a foundation settlement issue, place a four-foot level on the top of the door frame. If it’s not level, there is a good chance the issue is due to foundation problems and needs to be adjusted.

Sagging or Uneven Floors

Basement floors are typically made out of concrete so when the basement floor isn’t level, it is typically caused by foundation settlement or heave. Upper level floors are typically made out of wood, so there are more ways the upper levels could be unbalanced and its not necessarily a foundation issue. Foundation settlement or interior columns in the basement or crawlspace could shift, creating the imbalance, or there could be sagging floor joists. Either way, the best solution to stabilize sagging or uneven floors is to have them surveyed by a professional as there is not a quick way to indicate what is causing the imbalance by self-surveying the floor.

Separation of Cabinets or Countertops from the Wall

The main cause of cabinets or countertops separating from the wall is due to poor installation of the cabinets. However, this may also be caused by shrinkage or settlement in the floor or wall framing. When a new home uses conventional framing lumber, the size of the joists can cause the base of the cabinet to drop, while the studs in the back remain secure. Movement is caused by expansive soils, such as clay, that can cause shifts in the settlements with wet or dry climate. But first, it is important to determine what is causing the separation from the wall. If the reason has to do with shrinkage or floor settlement, have an expert help with returning the floor structure to the original position. This will close the gap between the wall and the countertops if the issue is foundational.

Foundation issues are nothing to mess around with. Pay attention to these six common signs of foundation issues and know when it is time to call an expert to have them find a solution to the problem.

Kali Aldrich is an employee at American Waterworks, a member of the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association. Blog articles are often submitted by members of the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association. For more information, please call 715-835-2526 or email

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